- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 6, 2000

Leon and Amy Kass have been married for almost 40 years, but the University of Chicago professors worry that too many of their students will never know that kind of lasting love.

“We’ve been teaching at the University of Chicago for 24 years,” Mr. Kass says. “For much of this time, we’ve been increasingly saddened to see what a mess these young people are making of their relations with the opposite sex.”

“They enter into lots of different kinds of relationships, but few of them ever think about marriage,” says Mrs. Kass.

Tired of watching young people suffer through broken relationships, broken hearts and broken dreams, the Kasses are now teaching a class on courtship, using as a text their new anthology, “Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying.”

Both the class and the book aim to provide what Mr. Kass calls “a higher kind of sex education, which is to train the hearts and minds by means of noble examples for romance leading to loving marriage. That’s what real sex education ought to do.”

Growing up in a sex-laden culture where divorce is common, many young people can scarcely imagine the “till-death-us-do-part” love once celebrated in songs and stories, the Kasses say.

” ‘Forever’ is not a word in the lexicon for many people,” says Mrs. Kass, noting that one legacy of the sexual revolution “was the demythologizing of sex and the debunking of romance.”

Despite these problems, the Kasses say, young people naturally desire romance.

“They crave something; they just don’t know what it is,” says Mr. Kass. His wife agrees: “They don’t know what it is, and they don’t know what it really looks like.”

Showing young people what love, courtship and marriage look like or at least, what they can look like is the purpose of “Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar.” The 630-page book, the fifth installment in the University of Notre Dame Press “Ethics of Everyday Life” series, takes its title from a Robert Frost poem, “The Master Speed,” which is included in the selections.

In their introduction to the book, the Kasses note that such traditional terms as “wooing,” “courting” and “suitors” have become “archaic,” and if the words barely still exist, it is because the phenomena have all but disappeared.”

Offering the original definition of courting “to pay amorous attention to … with a view to marriage” the authors write that the goal of marriage makes courtship different from today’s dating customs.

“Courtship was and is therefore distinguishable from flirting and seducing … to speak in modern idiom, from ‘hooking up’ or even from having or being in ‘a relationship,’ ” the Kasses write. “These activities, whatever their merits, do not aim at marriage.”

The 60 selections in the book are grouped into themes and span a wide range of sources:

* A chapter from the late Allan Bloom’s 1987 best seller “The Closing of the American Mind.”

* A page from the notes of Charles Darwin, pondering whether he should marry.

* Passages from the biblical books of Genesis and Song of Solomon.

* Three sonnets by William Shakespeare, as well as excerpts from his plays “The Tempest,” “As You Like It” and, of course, “Romeo and Juliet.”

* Classical thoughts on love from Homer, Plato, Aristotle and Herodotus.

* Writings about marriage by St. Thomas Aquinas, Desiderius Erasmus and C.S. Lewis.

* Literary selections from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Leo Tolstoy and Rudyard Kipling.

* Observations by Benjamin Franklin and Alexis de Tocqueville.

* Two extended excerpts from Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”

The recent vogue for the romantic works of Austen popularized in movies starring Emma Thompson and Gwyneth Paltrow is one encouraging sign that young people have not lost the capacity for lasting love, Mrs. Kass says.

“If you talk with them one on one … some of them are as romantic as anyone you’d ever meet,” she says.

Another encouraging sign, the Kasses say, is the level of student interest in their courtship class, which began yesterday. Taught in seminar fashion, the class is limited to 25 students, but they expect it to be full.

“Most of the young people we meet … have a longing for deep friendships, for lasting intimacy and for being respected, for being taken seriously by someone else,” says Mrs. Kass. “It seemed to us that those deep and unfulfilled longings could best be satisfied in solid marriages.”

Teaching about solid marriages at the University of Chicago is fitting for a couple who met at the Hyde Park campus in 1959 and were married two years later. “I met Mr. Kass the first day I was here,” Mrs. Kass recalls.

“The culture is massively different, the sensibilities are massively different,” Mr. Kass says of the changes in university life. But he does not blame students for those changes.

“If you put fine and good things before them, the best of the human soul has not yet died,” he says. “That’s the real tragedy… . The university used to combat the worst features of popular culture. Now, too many professors just encourage them.”

Obstacles to lasting love young people face include “the feminist movement, which for years disparaged women who put private happiness and family life ahead of career and self-advancement,” says Mr. Kass. He also cites the effects of declining morality: “Women complain now about the difficulty of getting men to commit. But they don’t see that it is the easy access of sexual pleasure that contributes to male irresponsibility.”

The Kasses note that the growing phenomenon of unmarried couples living together more than 4 million couples now do so has undermined marriage.

“It’s these kinds of cohabiting arrangements that make it possible for people to pursue their careers, because they provide the illusion that the personal life is taken care of,” says Mrs. Kass, describing cohabitation as part of a “low-commitment, high-autonomy pattern of relating.”

In addition to discouraging matrimony, cohabitation “also represents the cultural abandonment of the taboo against ‘living in sin,’ ” says Mr. Kass.

Americans increasingly reject the traditional belief “that there is and ought to be a deep connection between human sexuality, erotic love, and marriage and procreation,” he says. “That nexus has been multiply attacked and broken.”

Putting that broken nexus back together is what the Kasses’ new book and courtship class is about. They are not daunted by the current climate of cynicism toward love.

“Our task is not to contribute to their cynicism,” Mr. Kass says, “but to cultivate the things that are really fine in them.”

“And it’s not really difficult to find,” Mrs. Kass hastens to add. “You listen to them speak in class, and they’re so much better than anyone would have ever thought, even themselves. They really are capable of responding to the highest things.”

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